Medical equipment rental is a common cost that seniors should budget for, but people of all ages might need access to affordable medical equipment from time to time — maybe a driver was hurt in a car accident or a high schooler wrenched a knee on the basketball court.
For many, renting medical equipment can be more affordable than buying it outright, even in longer-term use cases. But deciding whether to buy or rent medical equipment comes down to more than personal preference. Usually, insurance providers and Medicare specify whether doctor-ordered medical equipment must be rented or purchased.
- 1 6 Ways to Save on Medical Rental Equipment
- 2 What Is Durable Medical Equipment?
- 3 Buying vs. Renting Durable Medical Equipment
- 4 Benefits of Medical Equipment Rental
6 Ways to Save on Medical Rental Equipment
- Go through medicare or insurance
- Ask about long-time rental discounts
- Look for local non-project lending programs
- Borrow from friends and family
- Work with a travel agent
- Consider buying (used) instead
These six tips can help you keep costs low on everything from power wheelchairs to patient lifts to hospital beds.
1. Go Through Medicare or Insurance
If you have Original Medicare and your doctor has deemed certain equipment medically necessary for your health and quality of life, you should absolutely use Medicare for the equipment.
Even if Medicare is requiring that you rent and you’d rather own, don’t skip out on this great coverage. In most cases, Medicare covers 80% of the monthly cost, and after 13 months, you’ll own the equipment outright.
If you aren’t on Medicare but do have health insurance, see if your policy includes coverage on rental equipment. Private insurance companies don’t have to offer DME coverage, but many do.
2. Ask About Long-Term Rental Discounts
Paying month to month might make sense if your medical issue is expected to be short-term, but if your doctor thinks the equipment might be necessary for several months or years, inquire about long-term rental equipment discounts.
3. Look for Local Non-Profit Lending Programs
As long as you don’t mind gently used medical equipment, you might be able to find free rentals through local non-profits. If you’re not sure where to look, try using the Eldercare Locator, which can find help in your specific community.
Religious organizations and local senior resource centers may offer free equipment rentals, especially for lower-cost items like walkers, canes and wheelchairs. If they don’t have the specific item you’re looking for, they may be able to point you to resources that can help.
States have their own assistance programs that can also assist you with affordable rentals. Check out this list of state resources to get started.
4. Borrow from Friends and Family
If you have a friend or family member who has previously needed a cane, patient lift or wheelchair, they might be willing to loan you the equipment, especially if your needs are short-term.
And if you know that they had to spend a lot of money on the item originally, you can offer to pay a small rental fee. They might not accept it, but the gesture is always nice.
5. Work with a Travel Agent
If you already own medical equipment but are traveling out of state, a travel agent may be able to help you coordinate equipment rentals with airlines, hotels and various tourist destinations, like museums and amusement parks.
The cost of rentals when traveling will likely be significantly more than the monthly cost of renting at home — and certainly won’t be covered by insurance. But it beats the alternative of paying exorbitant fees to fly or drive with your bulky medical equipment.
6. Consider Buying (Used) Instead
In many cases, renting medical equipment is the way to go: It allows more flexibility as your health changes, it gives you access to newer technology, and often it really is cheaper.
But if your child needs crutches after getting into a bicycle accident or you’ll need a wheelchair around the house following a routine surgery, it might make more sense just to buy a basic set of crutches or a simple wheelchair from a thrift store or a garage sale.
You can even shop online for affordable used medical equipment on sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, you could save some money by purchasing used equipment.
Sometimes Amazon has the lowest prices for new equipment. While you probably don’t want to go the budget route for something like an oxygen machine, you can probably get buy on discount crutches from the online retailer.
What Is Durable Medical Equipment?
Durable Medical Equipment (DME) is assistive devices that can be used repeatedly and help people carry out their daily duties while dealing with a medical challenge. Though people of any age might need crutches and wheelchairs for a time, seniors are the most common users of DME and Medicare Part B has specific provisions for this equipment.
This partial list paints a picture of the medically necessary equipment that doctors often prescribe (and that Medicare may cover):
- Wheelchairs, power wheelchairs and scooters
- Walkers, canes and crutches
- Hospital beds
- Patient lifts
- CPAP devices
- Commode chairs
- Blood sugar meters and test strips
- Oxygen equipment
- Lancet devices
- Suction pumps
If you have Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) and your doctor deems certain medical equipment or medical supplies necessary, contact Medicare to see if it’s covered, how much is covered and whether you have to buy or rent for the coverage to kick in.
Buying vs. Renting Durable Medical Equipment
In theory, you have several options when it comes to accessing home medical equipment, assistive devices and medical supplies:
- You can buy durable medical equipment new, either out of pocket or financed.
- You can buy gently used medical equipment at a discount.
- You can rent durable medical equipment, sometimes month-to-month or longer-term.
But if you have Medicare or certain health insurance policies, you may not actually have a choice. Often, such policies will only chip in on the cost if you do one or the other.
Thus, your actual insurance policy is the most important factor in determining whether you buy or rent your durable medical equipment.
It’s typically a good thing if Medicare requires you to rent your supplies. For most equipment, Medicare covers 80% of the monthly rental fee for 13 months. And after 13 months, you typically own the equipment automatically.
But not everyone has Medicare, and sometimes Medicare does give you a choice. Assuming you do have the choice to buy or rent your hospital bed, patient lift, or other needed equipment, here are a few things to consider as you weigh the decision:
How Long Will You Need the Equipment?
If you are a mostly healthy patient who is recovering from an invasive surgery or a broken bone, you might not need your medical equipment for a long time. If you can find affordable wheelchair rentals for a week, you could potentially save a lot of money instead of buying your own.
However, some medical equipment rental companies are set up to rent assistive devices for long periods of time — and affordably. If you have a ballpark estimate of how long you’ll need the medical equipment, you can calculate the cost of a long-term rental versus an outright purchase.
What Does Your Budget Look Like?
If you want to buy the medical equipment, you might be looking at a purchase of several thousands of dollars.
Patient lifts, for example, might go for $2,500. Hospital beds can reach $10,000. And power wheelchairs? Those can exceed $15,000.
If you are living on a fixed income, you might not be able to cover the upfront cost of new medical equipment, even if part of the purchase is covered by Medicare or health insurance. Financing could be an option, but often rental equipment is cheaper.
Instead of a large upfront cost, rentals mean monthly costs. Seniors with several health conditions or living in an expensive independent living community might struggle with this added monthly bill, even with the help of Medicare or a family member.
How Often Do You Travel?
Some medical equipment is difficult to travel with, even around town. CPAPs and infusion pumps travel easily, but motorized scooters and hospital beds might require specialized vehicles to transport.
But if you rent bulky durable medical equipment, the company might include pickup and delivery of the DME in its costs. Some rental companies can even coordinate equipment for you if you are traveling out of state.
Benefits of Medical Equipment Rental
Renting medical equipment has some perks. Here are a few to keep in mind:
If you buy new or even gently used home medical equipment, you run the risk that the technology becomes outdated during your lifetime. That means you may have to shop around again for an updated device — plus you’ll have a harder time selling your old one.
When you rent home medical equipment, you can upgrade to the latest technology as it becomes available.
Service and Repair
A hospital bed or basic wheelchair is not likely to need much regular maintenance, but more complicated systems like CPAPs, motorized wheelchairs, infusion pumps, blood sugar meters and oxygen equipment and accessories may malfunction and require repair from time to time.
As a buyer, you would be responsible for these costs. But with rental equipment, you can usually contact the company and arrange for the repair work — on their dime.
Sometimes, our health needs change, for better or for worse. If you are renting equipment from month to month, it’s no problem to return it once your doctor says you no longer need it.
But if you bought the equipment and, shortly after, your doctor’s instructions change, you’ll still own that equipment and be out the money you spent on it.
Contributor Timothy Moore is a writer and editor in Cincinnati, Ohio. He focuses on banks, loans and insurance for The Penny Hoarder. His work has been featured on Insider, Debt.com, Sound Dollar, Glassdoor, WDW Magazine, HomeAdvisor and The News Wheel.